AUBURN GRESHAM — With two grocery stores closed in the South and West sides, and another on its way out, City Council members are calling for a hearing with city, state and federal officials to address a lack of food access in underserved communities.
Standing outside an abruptly closed Aldi in Auburn Gresham, Ald. Raymond Lopez (15th) — whose ward includes Back of the Yards, Gage Park, Brighton Park and West Englewood — announced a City Council resolution Thursday for a hearing “to examine the failure of the city of Chicago food access policies to meet the needs of underserved residents.”
Lopez, who also is running for mayor in 2023, wants local leaders to testify about food insecurity, food access, operating grocery stores in neglected neighborhoods and other issues surrounding closed stores before the council’s Committee on Economic, Capital and Technology Development.
Alds. David Moore (17th) and Stephanie Coleman (16th) joined Lopez at the press conference. Moore’s ward includes the shuttered Aldi while Coleman represents the area where the Whole Foods in Englewood Square is closing.
Along with a West Garfield Park Aldi, three grocery stores have left underserved Chicago neighborhoods in less than a year.
Thirty-eight alderpeople signed onto the two-page resolution as of Thursday afternoon, in which Lopez said city leaders must “reimagine the entire food access system” and create “models, policies, and programs that are sustainable opportunities in all communities.”
Lopez and Moore could not immediately be reached for further comment.
Coleman said “little to nothing” is done when grocery stores announce they’re leaving Black and Brown communities.
When a store like Auburn Gresham’s Aldi closes, Coleman said she thinks of the seniors who live nearby and depend on the location for a gallon of milk or fresh produce. To have the stores close so suddenly is “a major hit,” she said.
“In 60 days, two anchors on the South Side have closed without any accountability,” Coleman said. “We’re not Edgewater or the Gold Coast where there is access to food on every block. … To be completely honest, it hurts my feelings. Stores don’t close like this on the North Side.”
Lopez’s resolution comes in the wake of Aldi, 7627 S. Ashland Ave., closing June 12, shocking residents who said they did not know the store was shutting down until they visited recently to find the building boarded up with a “closed” banner along the side.
An Aldi spokesperson said the company made the “difficult decision” to close due to “repeated burglaries and declining sales.”
“Out of concern for our employees and customers, keeping this store open was no longer a sustainable option,” a spokesperson said in a statement.
Moore told the Sun-Times the store’s lease lasted until the end of the year and the location recently received a liquor license. Even the owners of the building weren’t notified ahead of the closure, Moore said.
Aldi at 3835 W. Madison St. in West Garfield Park also closed with little warning in October, creating a food desert in a neighborhood battling food scarcity. Neighbors didn’t know about the closure until a sign was removed and workers were seen clearing the store.
In a similar statement, a spokesperson said they closed because of “consistently declining sales and the fact that we’ve operated this location at a loss for several years.”
In April, Whole Foods announced the company would close two Chicago locations, including the Englewood store at 832 W. 63rd St. A Whole Foods spokesperson said the store would close “in the coming months.”
The store, which opened in September 2016, arrived as a pledge from then-Mayor Rahm Emmanuel to bring fresh food options to a food desert and welcome more investment in the community.
The project received $13.5 million in federal tax credits, according to Crain’s, and the city dedicated $10.7 million in tax-increment financing for infrastructure advancements to open the store.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot blamed the closure on high prices and Emmanuel’s lack of communication with neighbors.
She vowed to work alongside community leaders and residents to bring a store to the location that best fits neighbors’ needs.
“We’re going to work our tails off to get a new alternative — one that the community wants and can access and participate in,” Lightfoot said in May. “It shouldn’t be that we’re plopping something down in a community where we haven’t engaged with them, we haven’t talked to relevant stakeholders to see if it’s something that they want, they need and that they’re going to be able to take advantage of.”
Coleman said she’s working with DL3 Realty, the realty company that spearheaded Englewood Square, to find a replacement for Whole Foods. She said she never thought the store was a good fit for the community but they made a commitment to neighbors, and she believed in their promises.
“The fact that they did this after six years when we celebrated their five-year anniversary as a part of Englewood excellence put a dagger in our hearts,” Coleman said. “We’re not a failure, they failed us.”
No hearing date has been set, but Lopez called on the public health and planning and development officials to share strategies on how they plan to handle the rapid closing of stores in underserved communities, and their goals to “end food security in Chicago.”
His resolution asks for federal departments, like the United States Department of Agriculture and the Illinois Food Council, to share testimonies on the current food, retail and health climate for city departments.
Local institutions like the University of Chicago are asked to share studies to help city departments “craft a successful food access strategy” that is affordable, appropriate and benefits neighbors, according to the resolution.
Coleman said she hopes the resolution makes the city more “proactive and less reactive.”
“We have to address food desserts and the lack of food access in our communities,” Coleman said. “The city needs to work on building relationships with operators and creating policies that help us.”
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